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Eccles take

The vast mural on a warehouse wall near the gateway to Salford Quays will soon need amending. This 20m high montage depicting the one-time dock area's transport modes - ship, train, lorry - must now warrant the addition of a gleaming tram.

Much of the latest 7km Metrolink extension is taken up weaving a path through the smart new office blocks that are now Salford Quays before invading a long straight road for a 2.4km street running section to the centre of Eccles.

Construction of this £130M line, awarded last May by concessionaire Altram to its own contracting arm Laing Civil Engineering and Ansaldo as a design-build package, is only now becoming visible after extensive service diversions.

'It was a fairly prescriptive route with little flexibility for new alignment,' says Laing project director Richard Hughes. 'The main challenge so far has been co-ordinating the large number of utility contracts to ensure they mesh with our construction programme.'

His challenge was heightened by not having direct control, as virtually all the service realignments are contracted direct to the client. But, with piling under way for the first structures on a total 2km of elevated track, the cause of Hughes' headaches is about to change.

Two multi-span viaducts and three bridges will sweep the twin track line from its high level connection with the Bury-Altrincham route over both the Bridgewater and Manchester Ship canals.

As the line forges an at grade alignment alongside and between upmarket office developments - by far the main passenger source - the route offers just one concession to its transport opposition. Threatening to invade the car park of a major office block, the route instead rises steeply on a viaduct over the top, preserving nearly all parking spaces beneath.

By contrast, the trams will again demand priority as they join the traffic of Eccles New Road en route to the town centre.

One of the tram stops along the road is immediately outside a nondescript, boarded up brick warehouse. Ironically, this was the depot of a previous once extensive tram network which, until it closed 60 years ago, formed the area's main transport mode.

First half of the extension to Broadway should be operational by September next year, with the remainder opening in April 2000.

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